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THE PRESERVATIONISTS WHO SAVED NEW ORLEANS Risen from the Ashes The Development of the VCC and VCPORA BY Heather Veneziano PRESERVATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT coexist in a symbiotic relationship in New Orleans. The tout ensemble represented today in our historic neighborhoods is the culmination of the work and passion of countless indi- viduals and groups that pushed for the preservation of our historic architecture.   The Vieux Carré, commonly known as the French Quarter, has always been at the forefront of the city’s preservation movement, and perhaps natu- rally so, as the original city. At the beginning of the 20th century, many of the once-grand residences of the Vieux Carré had been divided up into apart- ments and left in a state of quiet neglect and disrepair. The romantic nature of the scene was beneficial to those in pursuit of inexpensive apartments, such as im- migrant populations and artists seeking studio space. It also drew in tourists to view “The City Care Forgot, Quaint, His- toric, New Orleans,” as stated in a 1910 Washington Herald advertisement for the St. Charles Hotel.   In December of 1919, a fire destroyed the French Opera House, a city institution and cultural center for the Creole popula- tion. With its loss, came one less reason to visit the Vieux Carré — what was to be found there but faded memories of a lost time, squalor, bad roads and decaying buildings? The fear of this sentiment ral- lied local business and property owners of the Vieux Carré together, and on the eve- ning February 5, 1920, they held their first public meeting at the Hotel Montelone to put together plans of action.   These initial plans were far reaching in scope: calls to rebuild the French Op- era House, improve streets, increase the number of electric street lights, and a “general modernization of buildings, both dwellings and business premises with a liberal use of paints,” were listed in articles detailing the meeting’s proceedings. Days before the first meeting, the New Orleans States reported that the group wished 10  PRESERVATION IN PRINT • www.prcno.org to “create the right kind of conditions for the house-holder and home-owner who may prefer to reside in this charming quarter.” Also, included within the discussion of this first meeting, led by J. Earl Rogers and other businessmen of the neighborhood, was the call to protect “private homes, which reflect the architectural types of early days,” and the creation of “regulations to prevent the undue destruction of structures that ought to be preserved,” as reported by the New Orleans Item. The small group of concerned citizens tasked themselves with quite the workload. Some of these improvements would come to fruition that very year; others we continue to work on to the present day.   Beyond the outlined scope of work pre- sented at the meeting, the businessmen also had additional plans that would help for them to achieve their goals. The Quarter, neglected for years by many members of society other than their visits to the Opera House, needed to be relabeled as a fashion- able locale. To safeguard their investments, and their businesses, the men realized that further steps were necessary. Just days af- ter their inaugural meeting, Walter Valois, president of the newly christened Vieux Carré Improvement Association, promised to aid in financing a building for the United Women’s Club if they would move their clubhouse into the Vieux Carré.   The group also began writing to the Eu- ropean absentee landlords of the blighted homes within the Quarter, urging them to sell and place the properties into the hands of those capable of restoring and preserving them. They then publicly announced a call to action in the New Orleans States, at the end of February 1920, titled, “Shall Vieux Carre [sic] Live? It Is Up To Orleanians.” The article stated, “Are there in New Orleans forty or fifty men willing to act [as] god- father to fine old mansions in the French Quarter?” They didn’t find 40 or 50 men at first, but they did find one man willing and able to take on the role – the same man who APRIL 2018